The People’s Agenda Trumps the Bush Agenda

in St. Petersburg

(for complete photo album, click here)



ST. PETERSBURG, FL---On January 20, St. Pete for Peace invited their fellow Floridians to come to St. Petersburg to “State Your Cause” at our local counter-inaugural event…and the people came – some from as far away as Miami – to do just that.  No, we didn’t get to throw snowballs at the pResidential motorcade, but what we did get to do was to experience the power of community-building, to communicate with each other about ideas and projects and to share some vibrant and sometimes touching moments with people of all ages, colors and creeds.


The day began with a cold drizzle (and I cannot count the number of times freak weather has accompanied a Bush-related event – coincidence? I think not!) We had chosen Sembler corporation as our target location for a number of reasons…most of which can be found here:


Ah yes…Mel Sembler:

  • Experienced statesman (“The Senate quickly and quietly approved Sembler, who had been among a handful of President Bush's ambassadorial nominees criticized this summer for their lack of foreign policy experience.” AP, 10/08/89)
  • Spreader of b.s…I mean democracy…abroad (“After talking to Sembler, and especially after talking to his wife, who has taken on the role of responding to anti-American talk at the innumerable ladies' lunches she bravely attends, my guess is that any such dissenters who would undermine the president had better stay out of sight if they don't want their Italian jobs to come to an abrupt end.” The Daily Standard, 03/16/04)
  • Model citizen, possessor of all those good old fashioned family values that the Bush Bunch so cherish (“Straight, Inc. is the biggest violator of human rights and civil liberties that this country has ever seen.” The Straights:; “They run very close to really performing psychic murder.” Marge Robertson, executive director of the Cincinnati Chapter of the ACLU, speaking of Straight, Inc., from Cincinnati Post)
  • A true defender of the Constitution (Read which is a thorough account of Mel Sembler’s attempt to throw St. Pete for Peace off the public sidewalk in front of his multiplex entertainment complex.)

And although Mr. Sembler is obviously a very busy man, as a real estate developer, he still seems to have enough time left over to rape the environment. What a guy!


So marching under a huge banner proclaiming “The People’s Agenda: Human Rights and Humans Needs; Not Corporate Profits and Corporate Greed,” St. Pete for Peace and their friends set up across from the Sembler Company’s corporate headquarters to perform sort of a corporate exorcism. Periods of drumming and chanting were interspersed with ad hoc speeches made with a shared megaphone.  Twice during the event, protesters took to the streets, marching past residences and local businesses alike.



How well was the event received by non-participants? To judge by the reaction of motorists and pedestrians, you have to wonder about those election results in Pinellas County. During the afternoon march, a hesitant young man stopped his car and tagged along for awhile until he finally introduced himself to the marchers. As it turns out, he had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq and said he and his buddies would like to join us for some of our peace events. He was wondering if he would be welcome. Of course we were thrilled and we stood and talked to him about his experiences in Iraq for quite some time – don’t let the right wing media fool you – all that most of these young people want to do is come home. Unlike their chickenhawk leader, his corporate media mouthpieces, and all those rabid “kill them all” counter-demonstrators we encounter, there are many, many young people in Iraq who do not want to kill anyone. (This, by the way, highlights the need for us to not only step up our efforts to get them out of there, but to develop effective counter-recruitment strategies in order to prevent our young people from getting into a situation that no amount of basic training can prepare them for.)



The second march featured an equally inspiring moment as several families came out of their houses to cheer and clap.


Perhaps best of all, as is always true for these events, is watching the synergy that develops as anarchists stand next to Quakers, students stand next to retirees, and moms pushing babies in strollers banter with Veterans for Peace. Our names would not mean anything to those who do not live and work within this community, but amongst ourselves they are names which have heroic connotations. To my left is Bruce Wright, a Christian anti-capitalist who, as an advocate for the homeless and the street kids, has fought epic battles against the city. To my right is John Russell, an unapologetic progressive Democrat from Tampa, whose fiery rhetoric at the megaphone takes the crowd by surprise, particularly since he is wearing a really sharp suit and tie in stark contrast to the rest of us, who at this point in time are slightly bedraggled and damp after five hours of drumming, marching and chanting. “Who is that guy?” one marcher asked incredulously. “Is he really on our side?” On the corner are William and Lynn McLean of our local chapter for Veterans for Peace, and the founders of Mid Pinellas Homeless Outreach. Jay Shaft of the Coalition for Free Thought in Media is here with his pet rats and Bill Reed is here too – Bill is a member of the African People’s Solidarity Committee (among other groups), and was the person who stood at my side the very first time I stood up to speak during the public comments session at a City Council meeting.



And there are so many more, both familiar faces and new friends alike. By the time the event is over, about 125 people have passed through, stopped to stand with us, march with us or drum with us – some stayed for an hour and some stayed the whole day. Each person has a name and a story and a history that brought them to this place. Many people who came were first time protesters who “just had to do something.” This too was encouraging, as it is the neo-con presumption that the 2004 “election” should have so disheartened us that we would all simply just go away. Instead, it has only served to mobilize and solidify a diverse group of people who ordinarily, perhaps, would have remained single-issue focused and fragmented.


Although I normally become tongue-tied when someone shoves a microphone in my face, when the local community radio reporter stopped by to ask, “What would you tell people who are depressed by the outcome of this last election?” I didn’t miss a beat. What I would say to them was obvious, and it was right there in front of us.


“Build community,” I answered. “Just go out there and build community.”



In peace and solidarity,

Carol Schiffler
January 22, 2005



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